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Destinations

What to do in New Zealand ? the most beautiful places to see

From the active volcanoes of the North to the majestic fjords of the South, including glaciers and mountain lakes, New Zealand is a paradise for hikers in search of wild spaces and adventure sports enthusiasts.

Discover Maori culture, bungee jump, observe marine animals or taste a good wine. In this guide, you will find all the information you need to prepare your trip to New Zealand independently.

New Zealand is renowned for its stunning landscapes and diverse attractions. Here are some of the top places to visit:

  • Auckland: Known as the “City of Sails,” it’s famous for its harbors, beaches, and cultural attractions like the Auckland War Memorial Museum.
  • Queenstown: The adventure capital of New Zealand, offering activities like bungee jumping, skiing, and jet boating.
  • Rotorua: Famous for its geothermal wonders and Maori cultural experiences.
  • Waitangi: A significant historical site where the Treaty of Waitangi was signed.
  • Abel Tasman National Park: Ideal for hiking and kayaking with beautiful beaches and native bush.
  • Coromandel Peninsula: Offers beautiful beaches and natural wonders like Cathedral Cove.
  • Wellington: The capital city, known for its vibrant arts scene and the Te Papa museum.
  • Christchurch: A city rebuilding with creativity and innovation after the earthquakes.
  • Dunedin: Known for its Scottish heritage, wildlife, and the Otago Peninsula.
  • Milford Sound: A fjord with dramatic cliffs and waterfalls in Fiordland National Park.

These are just a few highlights, and there’s much more to explore across both the North and South Islands. Whether you’re looking for adventure, relaxation, or cultural experiences, New Zealand offers a wealth of options for every traveler.

Enjoy planning your trip to this beautiful country with our full guide about the best places to visit in New Zealand! 🏞️🌿

Many compilations of must-visit destinations in New Zealand often reflect the subjective viewpoints of their creators, often centered around well-trodden tourist spots.

However, this particular guide takes a unique approach. It stems from an extensive survey conducted from February 24 to 27, 2024, involving 596 avid travelers.

We inquired about the places they’ve explored and which three held the utmost appeal to them. The rankings are based on the ratio: the number of times a place was cited in the top three favorites divided by the total number of respondents who visited that particular place. »

1. TONGARIRO NATIONAL PARK

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Photo: Meggan Destouches

❤️ 51% of visitors ranked this place in their top 3
⏱️ 3 days minimum on site

Considered one of the prettiest parks in New Zealand, it is located in the center of the North Island. The beauty of its landscapes, its volcanoes, its cultural richness (sacred Maori sites) attract thousands of visitors every year. In 1993, it became the first park in the world to be listed as a UNESCO heritage site. This mountainous region is home to three active volcanoes: Ruapehu, Ngauruhoe and Tongariro. Ruapehu is the highest (2,797 meters) and the most active. In winter, you can ski on its slopes. At its base, the village of Whakapapa is the access point to the park. Another volcano, Mount Ngauruhoe is the “youngest”. Its conical appearance and smooth sides served as a setting for The Lord of the Rings (Mountain of Destiny). Finally, in the north, Mount Tongariro peaks at 1,967 meters. The famous Tongariro Alpine Crossing (day hike) allows you to discover absolutely extraordinary volcanic landscapes. During the day, you climb among volcanoes, walk past smoking faults, Red Crater scoria, turquoise lakes like Blue Lake and cross glacial valleys. A must-see in New Zealand, you will be moved by this extraordinary place. For those who want to make the most of the park, the Tongariro Northern Circuit is a three to four day loop classified as one of New Zealand’s Great Walks.

2. MILFORD SOUND

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milford sound

❤️ 42% of visitors ranked this place in their top 3
⏱️ 2 days minimum on site

Milford Sound is a 16 km long fjord located in Fiordland National Park. This park, listed as a UNESCO world heritage site, is one of the most beautiful natural sites in the South Island. With more than five hundred thousand tourists per year, you will not be alone on the day of your visit. From Te Anau, a road leads to Milford. It’s difficult along this road not to stop every five minutes to go for a short hike or take photos. At the end of the road, you see Miter Peak, an emblematic peak, which dominates this magnificent landscape of steep cliffs plunging into the dark, deep waters of the fjord. This area is one of the wettest in New Zealand. However, these rains feed the numerous waterfalls and promote lush vegetation. A unique and mysterious atmosphere emanates from this place. Boat or kayak are the best ways to discover one of the most beautiful fjords in the world. While sailing, you will be able to admire wild nature and very rich fauna (dolphins, seals, penguins, etc.). The Milford Track, one of New Zealand’s Great Walks, allows walkers to enjoy Fiordland National Park as it passes through rainforests and glacial valleys. 

Learn more about trecks on our article

3. WHITE ISLAND

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white island

❤️ 40% of visitors ranked this place in their top 3
⏱️ 1 day minimum on site

This small uninhabited volcanic island is located off the coast of Whakatane (in the Bay of Plenty on the North Island). White Island represents the emerged part of an underwater volcano. Its crater, close to the water surface, is particularly easy to access. Put your senses into action, because here the volcano is roaring. Fumaroles rise from the ground around an acidic lake and the smell of sulfur hits you. Our land is alive and well and you will feel it. Since the deadly eruption of December 9, 2019, New Zealand authorities have been considering permanently closing access to the site. At the time of writing this article, excursions to White Island are prohibited.

4. AORAKI/MOUNT COOK NATIONAL PARK

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mount cook

❤️ 39% of visitors ranked this place in their top 3
⏱️ 2 to 4 days minimum on site

Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Aoraki/Mount Cook (3,754 metres) is the highest point in New Zealand. It’s a must-see for a visit to the South Island. Its first name, Aoraki, comes from a Māori legend. Its second name, Mount Cook, refers to the famous explorer James Cook, who was the first to discover the New Zealand coast in 1770. Below Mount Cook, the Tasman glacier with its 27 km long is the largest in New Zealand, even if, like all glaciers on the planet, it melts very quickly and loses a few hundred meters each year. Icebergs break off and plunge into the lake of the same name located below. There are many marked paths to admire these high mountain landscapes. As you stroll through the park, you will see this magnificent peak and the surrounding peaks. The three main walks are the Hooker Valley Track, the Mueller Hut Route and the Tasman Valley Track.

 See our article on treks.

5. ABEL TASMAN NATIONAL PARK

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abel tasman

❤️ 32% of visitors ranked this place in their top 3
⏱️ 2 to 4 days minimum on site

One of the best known and most visited in New Zealand, Abel Tasman National Park is located in the northwest of the South Island. Its entry point is at Marahau, in the South. The best ways to explore the park are by hiking, kayaking or boating. By kayak, you can discover the numerous wooded coves of the coast in complete freedom. The park attracts many tourists, thanks to its golden sand beaches, turquoise waters, tropical forests and mild weather.

Hiking is another good way to visit the park. The Abel Tasman Coast Track is a three to five day trek. The path, of great beauty, alternates passages in the forest and beaches, all with the sea in the background. (Great Walks). 

Finally, by boat or by walking, you can discover a particularity: the Split Apple Rock. It is a rock formation shaped like a bisected apple.

6. LAKE WANAKA

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roys peak

Photo: Nicolas Saint Pol

❤️ 27% of visitors ranked this place in their top 3
⏱️ 1 to 3 days minimum on site

Wanaka is a small town in the Otago region, southeast of the lake of the same name. This seaside resort can be visited in summer and winter. It is often compared to its big sister Queenstown, but it remains calmer and more authentic. You will quickly be charmed by the landscapes of Wanaka. This little corner of paradise, on the edge of the lake, surrounded by mountains is popular with travelers. Thanks to its exceptional geographical location, Wanaka offers visitors an impressive choice of activities. You can take a short walk by the lake to photograph the solitary tree. Climb to the summit of Mount Iron, Roy’s Peak or walk the Rob Roy Track. Many agencies offer skydiving, canyoning, via ferrata, etc. Finally, on a rainy afternoon, families can visit Puzzling World (maze and illusion rooms).

7. CAPE REINGA

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reinga cape

❤️ 27% of visitors ranked this place in their top 3
⏱️ 1 to 2 days minimum on site

At Cape Reinga, at the northern tip of New Zealand, the waters of the Tasman Sea meet those of the Pacific Ocean. It is a sacred place in Maori culture. According to legends, the souls of the dead leave the earth through an eight hundred year old tree (Pohutukawa tree) for a long journey to the spirit world. From the lighthouse, look out to sea and enjoy a unique panorama. You are at the end of the world. There are several hikes starting from Cape Reinga, of varying length. You discover the ocean, cliffs and wild beaches. Surprisingly in New Zealand, you can surf on the dunes of Te Paki Sand in a fine sand desert near Cape Reinga. Finally, from or to Auckland, driving on the iconic 90 miles Beach is an experience in its own right. .

8. MOUNT SUNDAY

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Mount Sunday

❤️ 22% of visitors ranked this place in their top 3
⏱️ 1 to 2 days minimum on site

Located in the Canterbury region of the South Island, Mount Sunday belongs to the Hakatere Conservation Park. To get there, take the Hakatere Potts Road. Along the road, you enter a virgin and wild valley where you will only come across a few sheep. The plain is immense, the streams numerous, the vegetation displays different colored shades contrasting with the mineral of the mountain. Mount Sunday is revealed before you. It is here that the village of Edoras was filmed in the film “The Lord of the Rings”. We reach its summit by a short and easy hike. You will be rewarded with a magnificent panoramic view of the entire valley.

9. HOBBITON

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Hobbiton

❤️ 21% of visitors ranked this place in their top 3
⏱️ 1 day minimum on site

The destiny of this village, east of Hamilton, changed when Peter Jackson decided to come and film his “Lord of the Rings” trilogy there. Most of the tourists who come here are fans of the film. The burrows, flower gardens, green hills immerse the visitor in the atmosphere. Hobbiton can only be visited with a guide. This takes you past the hobbit houses, tells anecdotes from the filming and offers you a drink at the Green Dragon Inn. The visit lasts approximately two hours and costs 50 euros. You cannot access the site on your own. You will have to take a bus from the Matamata visitor center for example. Remember to book your tickets in advance, Hobbiton is one of the most visited sites in New Zealand.

10. LAKE PUKAKI

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pukaki lake

❤️ 21% of visitors ranked this place in their top 3
⏱️ 1 to 3 days minimum on site

Not far from Mount Cook, on the South Island, Lake Pukaki is among the most beautiful in New Zealand. No one can remain indifferent to this immense lake with turquoise waters. Its color seems unreal. It owes its intense blue to the glacial waters that feed it. Walking is the best way to visit the place, although many other sports are possible. On the west bank, a magnificent road runs along the lake and leads to Mount Cook. Plan plenty of stops to admire the scenery, such as at Peter’s Lookout. On a clear day, you can see some of the peaks of the Southern Alps, including Mount Cook, reflected on the surface of the lake. To the east of Pukaki, a track runs along the lake. It is perfect for cyclists or simply to get away from the tourists.

11. DOUBTFUL SOUND

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doubtful sound

❤️ 20% of visitors ranked this place in their top 3
⏱️ 2 to 4 days minimum on site

Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1990, this magnificent fjord, one of the largest in New Zealand, is located in the southwest of the South Island, in the Fiordland National Park. The region’s environment is rich in dense forests, steep cliffs and waterfalls. Close to Milford Sound, it is much less visited than this one. Indeed, access to the place is earned. Allow almost a day and several means of transport to get there. At the dead tree of Wilmot Pass, you arrive at the first viewpoint of Doubtful Sound. Before you, the majestic landscape consists of mists, rains, mountains, lush vegetation and the black waters of the fjord. Away from the crowds, you can enjoy the seclusion and tranquility of Doubtful Sound. Embark on a cruise to observe marine animals or spend a night in this magical place.

12. LAKE TEKAPO

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tekapo lake

Photo: Ruaux Charlotte

❤️ 19% of visitors ranked this place in their top 3
⏱️ 1 to 3 days minimum on site

In the heart of the Mackenzie Basin, the lake and town of Tekapo border the road linking Christchurch to Queenstown. An essential crossing point for a road trip in the South Island, Lake Tekapo is worth spending more than a few hours there. Its turquoise waters surrounded by mountains are one of the most beautiful landscapes in New Zealand. Thanks to the numerous hikes to the surrounding peaks, you can access spectacular viewpoints. Special feature to see: the Church of the Good Shepherd has a large bay window offering visitors a magnificent view of the lake. Finally, in 2012, the area surrounding Lake Tekapo was designated an International Dark Sky Reserve. This reserve, free of any light pollution, one of five in the world, allows for the most beautiful observations of the sky. The summit of Mount John is a very good place to admire the splendor of the sky and even the auroras australis.

13. QUEENSTOWN

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queenstown

❤️ 18% of visitors ranked this place in their top 3
⏱️ 2 to 4 days minimum on site

Located in the south of the island, between the Remarkables mountains and the banks of Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown is nicknamed the adventure capital of the world. The city, trendy and lively, attracts visitors in summer and winter. In this old mining town, the most difficult thing will be to establish your program as there are so many leisure activities. Some travelers take advantage of the beauty of the landscape and try a new extreme activity (bungee jumping, skiing, rafting, parachuting, jet boating, etc.). More classic, but just as interesting, the hikes allow you to discover the exceptional setting. Among these, the Ben Lomond Track, a demanding 6 to 7 hour walk will reward you with a dazzling view of the city. If you have time, explore the surrounding areas of Queenstown. To the north of the lake, the charming and peaceful town of Glenorchy is surrounded by a setting of stunning beauty. You can also spend some time away from the hustle and bustle strolling through the vineyards of the Gibbston Valley.

14. KAIKOURA

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kaikoura

❤️ 17% of visitors ranked this place in their top 3
⏱️ 2 to 4 days minimum on site

This small town is located on the east coast of the South Island, north of Christchurch. Kaikoura is the ideal place to observe marine animals. Indeed, many species live here including whales, sea lions and dolphins. 

See also our article When to go to New Zealand. 

Local agencies offer whale watching by boat or by flying over the ocean. You can also swim with dolphins, snorkel with seals or explore the peninsula by kayak. The very pleasant environment of Kaikoura, nestled between the Pacific and the rugged Seaward massif, is ideal for hiking, such as the Point Kean Seal Colony which takes you to encounter a colony of seals.

15. ARTHUR’S PASS NATIONAL PARK

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arthur pass

❤️ 17% of visitors ranked this place in their top 3
⏱️ 1 to 3 days minimum on site

The gold rush made it necessary to create an axis between Christchurch and the West Coast, in the heart of the Southern Alps. Travelers who visit this magnificent park, often forgotten by guides, will not be disappointed. You enter an incredible mountainous region and cross passes and valleys, each more beautiful than the next. These immense wilderness areas are ideal for hiking, climbing and skiing. What a joy to evolve in this landscape of snow-capped peaks, glaciers, rivers, dense forests and flowery meadows. The Arthur Pass village, just four kilometers from the pass, is the starting point for many hikes and a practical base for exploring the park.

16. ROTORUA

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rotorua

Photo: Julie Devigne

❤️ 17% of visitors ranked this place in their top 3
⏱️ 1 to 3 days minimum on site

As soon as you arrive at “Sulphur City”, the smell and fumes will quickly make you realize that you are in one of the most active geothermal areas in the North Island. Rotorua’s main attraction is its volcanic activity. Several geothermal parks, including Wai-O-Tapu and the Waimangu Volcanic Valley, are worth a visit. You will discover geysers, hot springs, fumaroles and boiling mud pools. These parks are paying and very busy. If you search, you will still find some free sites like Kerosene Creek, Kuirau Park in the city center or Rainbow Mountain. The region has a large Maori community whose traditions you can discover by visiting the villages of Ohinemutu or Whakarewarewa. Finally, you can enjoy the magnificent landscapes offered by the numerous lakes or walk in the redwood forest.

17. MOUNT TARANAKI

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mount taranaki

❤️ 15% of visitors ranked this place in their top 3
⏱️ 1 to 3 days minimum on site

Mount Taranaki is located in the Egmont National Park, halfway between Auckland and Wellington. At 2,518 meters it is the second highest peak in the North Island. The almost symmetrical sides of this resting volcano fascinate travelers. Often compared to Mount Fuji, the almost perfect shape of its cone ranks it among the most emblematic volcanoes in the world. In the park, you will find hiking trails for all levels to discover the splendor of Mount Taranaki.

18. CATHEDRAL COVE

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cathedral cove

❤️ 15% of visitors ranked this place in their top 3
⏱️ 1 to 2 days minimum on site

In the Coromandel Peninsula, on the North Island, Hahei is a charming little seaside resort which is home to an exceptional natural site: Cathedral Cove.

It is a magnificent beach with turquoise waters where there is an imposing stone arch shaped by erosion. At low tide you can pass under the arch and reach the other part of the beach. We advise you to visit Cathedral Cove at the beginning or end of the day to avoid the crowds of tourists. The sublime beach, one of the most beautiful in the country, served as a setting for the film “The Chronicles of Narnia” which further increased its attendance. Cathedral Cove is an essential stop on a trip to New Zealand since it is located near Auckland and right next to another remarkable site: Hot Water Beach. 

learn more our article on the most beautiful beaches

19. THE CATLINS

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catlins

Photo: Guillaume Busillet

❤️ 13% of visitors ranked this place in their top 3
⏱️ 2 to 4 days minimum on site

The Catlins region is located in the far south-east of the South Island, off the beaten track. However, it is well worth the detour. To get there from Invercargill or Dunedin, the magnificent SH92 road runs along the Catlins coast revealing isolated lighthouses with incredible views of the ocean, deserted beaches at the ends of the world and steep cliffs. We recommend, among others, going to Nugget Point, Surat Bay, Cathedral Caves, Curio Bay and Slope Point (the southernmost point of New Zealand). It is better to be motorized to visit the region. Towards the interior of the territory, the landscape becomes pastoral. The region reveals farmlands, forests, waterfalls and caves. You can observe a very rich fauna. Take the time to live the local rhythm. You can never stay at Catlins long enough.

20. WELLINGTON

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Wellington

❤️ 12% of visitors ranked this place in their top 3
⏱️ 1 to 3 days minimum on site

On the edge of the Cook Strait, Wellington is the southernmost city in the North Island. You can easily explore the center of the capital on foot. Wellington is a city on a human scale where life is good. Moreover, it is often ranked among the best cities in the world for its quality of life. Stroll through the bars and restaurants, which are very lively and busy in the evening, to get into the spirit of ‘Windy Welly’, a nickname given to the city because of the storms that frequently hit it. You will be surprised by the cultural and artistic richness of this “small” city. Indeed, Wellington has a good number of museums, galleries and fashionable boutiques. During a visit to the Te Papa museum, take a walk along the waterfront. Also discover the beautiful panoramas offered by the city aboard the Cable Car.

KNOWN BUT DISAPPOINTING PLACES

In New Zealand, travelers come looking for wild and preserved nature. The islands concentrate a large number of exceptional sites. Unsurprisingly, cities are not the highest ranked places in our survey.

AUCKLAND

With its international airport, Auckland is an almost obligatory crossing point for many travelers. 79% of respondents to our survey say they have passed through this city. Auckland is a modern city, the largest in New Zealand and the country’s main economic hub. The city center concentrates offices, buildings, hotels and restaurants. Nothing very original except that rugby fans will be able to visit the legendary Eden Park stadium. The surrounding islands, vineyards and countryside are of much more interest.

CHRISTCHURCH

The second city in the country, Christchurch is frequented by nearly 75% of travelers, but is very rarely cited among the favorite places. It has been rebuilt since the 2016 earthquake and the authorities are making efforts to make it more attractive. However, the South Island has so many national parks to visit that it would be a shame to stay in the city for too long. Just next to Christchurch, you can start by visiting the small “French” town of Akaroa.

DUNEDIN

Dunedin is a stopover city if you travel along the east coast towards the south. While Tunnel Beach is worth the detour, the town doesn’t have many places to visit. However, it can serve as a good base for exploring the Otago Peninsula.

PICTON

Picton is very busy in the summer. For good reason, the city has the main passenger port in the South Island. Anyone wishing to visit both islands by land will need to transit through Picton. The small town doesn’t really have any charm. However, it is a very good base for exploring the magnificent Marlborough Sounds or completing the superb Queen Charlotte Track.

COROMANDEL TOWN

At first glance, Coromandel town center may seem timeless. The architectural heritage is very present and gives the city a wild-west feel. You like it or you don’t like it. The city does not present a lot of interest, other than taking advantage of the bars, restaurants and hotels for a stopover to explore the magnificent Coromandel Peninsula.

10 TIPS FOR TRAVELING TO NEW ZEALAND

  • Allow at least two weeks per island. If you’re staying less than a month (at most three weeks and hurrying), stick to just one island.
  • Take your time if you don’t want to spend the majority of your time on the road.
  • Anticipate a substantial budget. The cost of living there is relatively high.
  • Consider traveling between April and November. There are fewer tourists and prices are more affordable.
  • Be prepared to change your schedule depending on the weather.
  • Do not linger in towns except Wellington and Queenstown.
  • Bring all-season clothing and adequate equipment if you want to hike.
  • Bring a good sandflie repellent.
  • If you’re renting a vehicle, download the CamperMate app to find approved overnight locations.
  • If you want to meet New Zealanders, improve your English, go couchsurfing, hitchhiking and attend sporting or cultural events.

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